The Bay to go all out embracing the world of

Maybe surviving for 330 years gives you the ability to perform minor miracles. The Hudson’s Bay Co. has managed to get Microsoft, Oracle and IBM to work together with HBC to take the retailer into the next millennium.

The frequently hostile triumverate will help HBC fully integrate its technology solutions to create a “retail showcase for the North American market.” Dubbing the group a global dream team, HBC’s president and CEO George Heller, admitted it’s not often one gets to see the three companies together on stage.

But the recent announcement was not about the bringing together of the trio as much as it was an announcement that the Bay is fully prepared to move into the next millennium with the goal of remaining competitive in the e-business world.

“If you are not on an e-platform, you will never get there (to the goal),” Heller said.

He continued by explaining his vision of HBC as seamless retail organization whose on-line mandate is to bring to bear the vast potential of a Web-enabled digital economy. “This goes beyond e-tailing, [it is an] enterprise-wide approach,” he said.

David Poirier, HBC’s CIO, said the transformation will make HBC a complete e-business and will effect everything from store operations to administration and supply chain management. Heller added that the solution will also be able to integrate customer transactions so they can be targeted as individuals.

it’s going to cost millions

Journalists pestered Heller, trying to find out exactly how much the venture is going to cost and how much it will save the company.

He would go so far as to say HBC envisions spending around $40 million to $45 million per year for the foreseeable future, stating that part of the cost is for new technology and part for upgrading present systems. His analogy was that of a heart and lung transplant – huge and complex.

When asked for forecast savings he was a little more evasive, saying that the company could save $20 million to $40 million annually in the e-procurement of non-merchandizing materials but that there was no real way to know exactly how much will be saved or gained over all.

“[It is] like asking how many angles dance on the head of a pin,” he said rather cryptically. “How do you get your hands around a cloud?”

According Poirier, the company is about a third of the way done changing its system from a mainframe to an e-platform and that the time frame for completion is around two to two and a half years.

Heller came up with another explanatory titbit for laypersons as to why the process will take so long. “It is not a shazam; it does not go poof.”

One might question the logic of going with three companies (to implement a solution) when one could have done it with a lot less friction.

“Going with a single (company) might limit opportunities in the future,” Poirier said in a subsequent interview. He said the advantages of getting several viewpoints and a great deal of expertise far outweighed any potential disadvantages. Even choosing the three to participate was no easy task. The Bay looked at IBM, Sun and Hewlett-Packard platforms before deciding on the former mix. “[The] reality is that any of those technologies could have probably worked,” he said.

who provides what

Final decisions as to who will provide which technology have not been made but Poirier said some choices were more apparent than others. Using IBM hardware and an Oracle financial solution on a Microsoft desktop environment would be a possible scenario.

In those areas where there is going to be inevitable competition (databases come to mind), Poirier said an agreement was made at the outset they all would work through any problems. “No one will take their ball and bat and go home,” he said. Poirier added that the overall solution will inevitably include other high technology companies and that present technology relationships will still be there in the future, with room for others to join. will be launched this fall (the present version has limited on-line purchasing capabilities), along with (intranet) and for B2 B relationships.

Simon Witts, president of Microsoft Canada Co. said the solution is an opportunity “to get our digital act together” for the benefit of the customer, whether that person is on-line or in store. John Wetmore, CEO of IBM Canada Ltd. and Bill Bergen, president of Oracle Corporation Canada Inc. were also present.

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